THE IRB World Cup is less than half-full with four months to go, following setbacks in Christchurch - but ticket sales to overseas visitors have exceeded expectations.
About 789,000 of 1.6 million total tickets to the Rugby World Cup have been sold, and tickets are currently sold only in travel and hospitality packages, with few left for popular matches.
"If anyone wants an absolute guarantee of tickets, that's the best place to go at the moment," said Rugby World Cup boss Martin Snedden.
Organisers have refunded 130,000 tickets to Christchurch matches that were relocated by the earthquake, and these will be resold to the original ticketholders from Monday before being returned to the public pool in six weeks.
"The Christchurch situation will set us back for a period of time," Mr Snedden said.
Organisers have a sales target of 1.35 million - or 82 per cent capacity - and Mr Snedden said it was now "challenging" to make the 500,000 necessary sales but it was "achievable".
The tournament must make $99 million in sales to reach its target operating deficit of $39 million, two-thirds of which will be covered by the taxpayer.
In contrast to the difficulties in New Zealand sales, overseas figures show that about 85,000 people abroad have bought Rugby World Cup tickets.
The 85,000 exceeds early optimistic projections of between 60,000 and 70,000 World Cup visitors.
The final phase of public ticket sales will start in early July, when all remaining tickets will become available on an individual, real-time basis. The first two phases sold limited numbers of tickets in lotteries.
Mr Snedden said that the finals rounds and the NZ-France match were expected to be sold out - or quickly sold out - in July.
Everything else will likely have vacancies.
Meanwhile, travel packages for popular matches would not last much longer, said House of Travel retail director Brent Thomas.
"We're not talking about thousands of tickets - it's in the hundreds. It's very limited," Mr Thomas said.
Pool matches had been selling faster than expected, he said.
The Official Travel Programme sells tickets in a package with accommodation or transport.
Matt Lines, the director of Seasonz Travel, said New Zealanders who had missed out in the public ticket ballots were buying finals packages through the company in order to guarantee their tickets.
The tournament was predictably selling out from the sharp end, Mr Lines said.
"To the point where we've reordered new stock for the finals period. We still have packages available, but we're confident they will sell."
The company could sell their tickets to the NZ-France match "15 times over", Mr Lines said, and the Australia-Ireland match was popular with Australians who wanted to visit for a weekend.
To date more than 105,000 tickets have been bought through the programme, and final figures are expected to reach 110,000.
As expected, Australians had bought the majority of tickets at 37 per cent - but the level of French interest was a surprise at 23 per cent of all orders, said David White, the operations director for Rugby Travel and Hospitality.
"Because it's a foreign language, I guess they have sought the support and comfort of going through the official travel programme," Mr White said.
"I think people in the UK have a lot of connections in New Zealand and a lot of them would have bought their tickets through the public tickets."
Of the pool matches, packages including tickets to Australia versus Ireland on September 17 and New Zealand versus France on September 24 - both at Eden Park - have been big sellers.
Other markets have surprised - there has been strong interest from Tahiti for the NZ-France match, owing to the the large French expat population there.
Tickets are also being sold to corporate guests through hospitality packages, and Rugby Travel and Hospitality predicts the forecast of 50,000 packages to be sold will be accurate.
"They're a discerning rugby crowd, and are certainly following the home team - the New Zealand games are well supported, and the finals as well," Mr White said.
Tickets that are selling fast...
- Australia vs Ireland, Eden Park (Auckland)
- France vs Canada, McLean Park (Napier)
- New Zealand vs France, Eden Park (Auckland)
- Fiji vs Samoa, Eden Park (Auckland)
- France vs Tonga, Stadium Wellington
- England vs Scotland, Eden Park (Auckland)
- New Zealand vs Canada, Stadium Wellington
- Knockout rounds
Where you can buy tickets today...
- Tickets packaged with transport or accommodation through official travel agents (House of Travel and Seasonz in NZ).
- Tickets packaged with hospitality, such as corporate boxes, through official hospitality agents (Eden Park and others).
From early July...
- Public sales of individual tickets through organisers.
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